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The Difference It Makes (the Erase/Rewind remix)

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Steve is digging through his closet looking for a warm winter coat when he feels something unexpected in a jacket pocket and pulls out a small, square box. He doesn’t remember putting it there.

He turns it over in his hands, curious. Although the box is unfamiliar, it feels significant somehow. Important.

He opens the box and inside is an plain, elegant ring nested in dark velvet. He takes the ring out, examines it. It feels heavy, and on the inside of the band is the inscription you are my home.

He squints. He can’t imagine how this ring got into his jacket pocket. Maybe Jan borrowed his jacket and left it there by mistake?

He’s contemplating what he should do when his Avengers alert goes off, and he shoves the box back where it came from and rushes out the door.

 


 

He knows that he’s lucky to have his team behind him. Whenever he’s feeling down, he can count on Jan and Hank and Vision to listen to his troubles and Thor and Wanda to cheer him up. Iron Man hasn’t been around much lately but Steve gets it, he’s busy.

It’s even more vital to have the team’s support since he and Iron Man discovered that evil telepath Mentallo was in league with AIM. With MODOK leading AIM and forging new alliances, they need to work together now more than ever before.

The Avengers meeting today had been jovial chaos with all the new recruits in attendance. And that Stark guy in the swanky suit was there too, talking about something to do with finances.

Steve finds it a bit odd that he’s lived in Stark’s house for years but they’ve barely exchanged two words to each other in all that time. But with so many new people to consider, he really doesn’t have time to worry about their strangely taciturn benefactor.

 


 

Nearby to the mansion, he walks past a burger restaurant that he knows he loves. He knows he has been there a hundred times. He always orders two beef burgers for himself and a spicy chicken burger for… some reason.

It doesn’t make sense. He doesn’t even like spicy food.

He remembers the burgers, but he doesn’t remember ever visiting there.

 


 

He has this strange sensation that there’s something crucial he’s not seeing.

He dreams about it, sometimes. When he’s asleep he knows there’s someone so important to him that he’d lay down his life without a second thought. There’s someone who understands him, who balances him, who is his other half in every way. They go on missions together, they live together, they are inseparable on the battlefield and off it.

There’s someone who completes him, in a way he never knew that he needed.

When he wakes up, just for a second he remembers. He clutches the memory like a lifeline, but then their face fades from his mind like water running into the earth and the details slip through his fingers and then it’s gone.

 


 

There’s a set of miniature screwdrivers in one of his belt pouches. They’re just the right size for adjusting the strap on the back of his shield, and they’re strong so he doesn’t accidentally snap them like he usually does.

He has no idea where they came from.

 


 

He finds himself going back to the small box in his closet, opening it and examining it and turning the ring over and over in his hands. It’s a chunky ring, big enough that it could be for a man’s hands or for a larger woman. It feels dense and weighty, and as he holds it in his palm he thinks it’s made of titanium, so that it’s non-conductive and strong.

He wonders why a ring would need to be non-conductive or strong, and then he wonders how he knows that. He doesn’t remember anything about this object but he knows that it needed to be safe to wear in a workshop or in a fight. Those seem like such peculiar requirements.

He looks at the engraving again. The lettering is modern, almost futuristic. It’s all sharp edges and narrow letterforms, crisp and elegant. It’s not a style he would ever choose for himself.

And then there’s the inscription: you are my home. It’s a beautiful sentiment but it doesn’t make sense to him. He loves his team and he loves being an Avenger, but he hasn’t felt at home here or anywhere else in a very long time.

He feels a strange pang of jealousy for whomever felt strongly enough to have this ring inscribed for their lover.

 


 

He finds a battered old copy of The Once and Future King tucked behind the headboard of his bed. He remembers reading the book, remembers the adventures of the troubled King Arthur and his dear protector Merlin, but not where it came from.

There’s an inscription inside: To Steve, from your Merlin. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I have.

The writing is scratchy, messy, almost illegible. Steve thinks it must be a gift from someone versed in the mystic arts. A magic user, maybe. But it doesn’t seem like Wanda’s taste in literature and Sersi is not really a gift-giver.

 


 

He decides to talk to his teammates about his worries. He has learned the hard way not to cut himself off when he’s in doubt.

Thor thinks he’s been cursed, but Steve thinks that’s unlikely. Hank thinks it’s a stress response, a reaction to the pressure of reforming the Avengers and leading them. That’s certainly possible. Jan teases him that he must be getting old and senile, though he knows she’s only joking with him.

Finally, he asks Iron Man. Iron Man has been distant lately, presumably attending to other priorities in his life. But Steve and he used to be close, and Steve needs all the help he can get now.

As he describes the problems he’s been having, Iron Man’s shoulders inch up and up. Steve knows that means he’s worried, attentive.

Steve lets himself open up. It feels good to talk with Iron Man again. They used to talk so often, and Steve’s missed his company.

He tells him about the unfamiliar objects, the strangely familiar locations, even the dreams.

Abruptly, Iron Man holds up a hand to cut him off. “That sounds complicated. But what you need to focus on, Cap, is a simple question: Are you happy?”

Steve tilts his head and considers. That seems like a strange question. He supposes he is happy, in a way. He feels lighter, somehow, than he has in years. Like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders.

He tells that to Iron Man. Iron Man nods slowly, so slowly, like that was the final word in whatever conversation they were having.

Iron Man clasps him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about it, Winghead,” he says, voice flat through the modulator. “You probably just need a good night’s sleep. At least you’re happy, eh?”

But here’s what Steve didn’t say: he also feels untethered, like he could float away at any time, like there’s nothing anchoring him to the present. He’s adrift, lost, alone, and he supposes he always will be.

He trusts Iron Man, though. Iron Man would always look out for him.

Whatever it was that he’s forgotten, it can’t have been important after all.